Coastal News from the Field: Adaptive Management of the Indian River Lagoon, Florida

By Ellis Kalaidjian

This blog post is the first of a new monthly series, tentatively titled “Coastal News from the Field,” which highlights new coastal management/conservation-themed research that makes us tick. We are excited about this new development for the blog and encourage our readers to reach out to admin@thecoastalsociety.org with any research or topics they would like to see featured in this series.

This month, we highlight a study from a research team in Florida, titled “Adaptation Actions to Reduce Impairment of Indian River Lagoon Water Quality Caused by Climate Change, Florida, USA,” as published in the most recent issue of the Journal of Coastal Management. The motivation for this work comes from the increasing vulnerability of estuaries to climate change impacts of salt-water intrusion from rising sea levels, hydrological regime changes, water temperature increases, and so forth. The Indian River Lagoon (IRL) was designated as an Estuary of National Significance by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 1990 and, more recently, a Climate Ready Estuary in 2008, following a collaboration between the EPA and National Estuary Program in the form of the Climate Ready Estuaries Program.

Map of the IRL watershed (Source: EPA, 2004)
Aerial view of the IRL (Source: US Fish & Wildlife Service, 2006)

The core objective of this research was to assess the vulnerability of the IRL’s management program to climate change and prescribe adaptive actions designed to improve the program’s efficacy and protect the estuary from further climate-change-induced impairment. The research team first compiled and reviewed a list of the program goals (e.g., “water quality” or “healthy communities”) within the IRL’s Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plan (CCMP) that were most likely at risk from climate change and the associated climate stressors jeopardizing those goals. The team then weighted each risk in a matrix based on parameters of consequence, likelihood, spatial scale, and timeline. A total of 472 risks were identified. Of those, 50% were associated with impacts to impaired waters, wastewater, and surface water. Nearly all (97%) of these risks were induced by three prevalent climate change stressors of altered precipitation regimes, increasing storminess, and sea-level rise.

From here, the research team was able to identify nine adaptation actions to mitigate water quality impairment caused by climate change. Each action focused on mitigating the major sources of elevated pollutant loadings anticipated to accompany climate change, including wastewater treatment plants, on-site treatment and disposal systems, and surface water storage and conveyance infrastructure; for example, one action was to create a GIS-based inventory of vulnerable infrastructure supporting the three systems. In addition, the team devised a five-step action plan that could be used to achieve each of the nine adaptation actions and proposed an integrated management regime based on the existing symbiosis between the state of Florida and the IRL National Estuary Program.

In the face of the emerging circumstances presented by climate change, it is paramount that we continually review and adapt the programs that we have instituted to protect our coastal resources. The research highlighted in this article showcases how adaptive management—a concept based in theory—can be operationalized to satisfy long-term conservation agendas. The study also demonstrates how vulnerability assessments can be used to prioritize and continually monitor program action areas that harmonize mutual interests of a diverse stakeholder network. Most importantly, the deliverables of this applied research have direct utility for future policymaking, community engagement initiatives, program financing, and other efforts that may otherwise have been hindered without recognition of the future management challenges posed by climate change.

Citation:
Parkinson, R. W., Seidel, V., Henderson, C., & De Freese, D. (2021). Adaptation Actions to Reduce Impairment of Indian River Lagoon Water Quality Caused by Climate Change, Florida, USA. Coastal Management, 49(2), 215-232.

HIGH STAKES: HURRICANE MATTHEW THROUGH THE EYES OF A CAREGIVER

By Kasey R. Jacobs, TCS Communications Chair, Partnership and Communications Coordinator for the Caribbean Landscape Conservation Cooperative

Editors’ Note: This story is the third contribution to the TCS Storm Stories series.

Three women sat slightly sweating with the electricity out, wind pounding the hurricane shutters. Each a daughter from a different generation – Generation Y, Baby Boomer, and one born on the cusp of the Greatest and Silent Generations.

Up until that point our time in darkness waiting for Hurricane Matthew had been like a snow day. Cozy together time with coffee, playing cards, watching the local weather man give updates, and reading books aloud to one another.  After two wobbles that took Matthew away from our location, we were relieved to no longer have to think about extreme flooding or whether or not the house could stand up to category 4 winds.

But while others in our area probably went to bed after the second wobble, we stayed up.

One of us had a high stake in the electricity going out.

My 87-year old grandmother, Rae Dolores DePalma (b. 1929 – d. 2017), a long-time sufferer of COPD and congestive heart failure, spent the prior five years transitioning from needing oxygen part of the day, to most of the day, to all of the day. In October 2016, ten minutes off the oxygen could plummet her blood oxygen levels to 50% oxygen saturation – a critical level.  Or as one paramedic told us so crudely, “I’ve seen corpses with oxygen levels higher than that.”  My mother and I needed to stand guard in case the electricity cut out. Even with the electricity on, we would check her levels using an oximeter at least hourly.

Rae Dolores DePalma

Sure enough, not long after Hurricane Matthew’s second wobble, the TV and lights flickered and we were in pitch darkness. We immediately put our contingency protocol into action.

The oxygen concentrator my grandmother depended on, and that we affectionately called O2-D2, couldn’t operate without electricity. Little green tanks were Plan B. Each could last four hours and we had five tanks. If the electricity would be off longer than 20 hours we would have to switch to the large hurricane-supply tank of oxygen in the garage that could last 48 hours. If the electricity stayed off longer than that, Plan C was arranging a ride with EMS to the hospital. Past storms in the area had left my family without electricity for ten or more days. The closest hospital was also in the next town over and in a flood zone, which created additional transportation challenges should the roads be impassable.

At the start of the hurricane season I had made inquiries into the capacity of our area for dealing with special needs patients during hurricanes. I had learned the local senior center was not equipped to allow oxygen-dependent persons into the shelters. And I had been told the County did not have an official special needs shelter.

For us, the only option would be the hospital located in the flood-zone. The hospital administrator assured me the generators in the hospital would be safe as they are located on high ground, not in parking lots, which is sometimes the case for essential facilities in flood-prone areas. (I discovered this to be the case while mentoring a group of Worcester Polytechnic Institute students conducting a critical infrastructure analysis in San Juan’s coastal zone.)

Why didn’t we evacuate? 

During the hurricane, my mother and I would occasionally speak in whispers so as to not to alarm my grandmother that we should have evacuated. I was witnessing risk perception study results come to life. A couple of times prior to the hurricane, I had presented to my family the reasons I felt we should evacuate. I used flood map tools from the county and explained how stormwater infrastructure functions and the uncertainties in flood modeling. Our house is located one mile from the evacuation zone and in the middle of a series of man-made retention ponds and rivers. Our neighbors were claiming that past hurricanes had flooded the streets but none of the floods went up to the doors. To me this meant a Category 4 certainly could have inundated our houses given the right conditions (storm surge direction and height combined with high tide, heavier than expected rainfall, debris clogged sewers, and overtaxed storm water retention basins).  We also had family on the west coast of Florida so, unlike many others, we wouldn’t have to pay for a hotel.

The concern written all over the faces of the local horsewomen of the city had me even more worried in the days leading up to Hurricane Matthew’s arrival. They had been through this time and time again, yet this time seemed different. My sister and her friends spent hours preparing a concrete barn of a friend for extra horses, making sure no flying debris could injure a horse. Those who had non-concrete barns often relocate their horses to concrete barns during storms, if they don’t evacuate to Florida’s west coast.  At the concrete barn, my sister and her friends boarded up the stalls, secured feed and water, and transported horses from other unfortified barns.

In the end, I was out-voted. It was considered to be too much of a production to transport all three of us plus two dogs to the west coast with a car full of oxygen tanks, the concentrator, wheelchair and walker, only to pack it all up again and return a few days later. With most of the coast evacuating we could be stuck in traffic for so long the green tanks would run out before we got there. Plus, in and out of cars for short trips, let alone long trips, was really taxing on my grandmother and the anxiety and stress was not good for her heart. It was already working overtime because of her COPD.

During the storm, before the two wobbles, we realized the big risk we took in the decision to stay. I couldn’t help but think of those studies that discuss how even with information (in this case, coastal scientist family member sitting there in the living room with maps and hurricane data discussing the risks) people will tend to listen to neighbors, local weather men or sheriffs before the scientists. Because we were not directly in the evacuation zone these public figures were not focusing their recommendations for our area. They repeatedly pleaded with residents and businesses in evacuation zones to evacuate. The Governor of Florida even went so far as saying, “If you stay, you will die.” I called the County emergency hotline to get advice for our area but they would not give me a specific recommendation, most likely for liability reasons. They did, however, reiterate the information I already knew and discussed the different scenarios. It was nice to have that peer review of what I was telling my family, but because we were one mile outside the evacuation zone we were left to determine our risk independently.

Our neighbors were all saying before the storm that the last hurricane wasn’t so bad. In my family we have been through so many other storms some felt we could get through anything. Days after the storm it was like memories were jogged and new stories came up about bad damage and flooding from past hurricanes.

The Human Factor

In the hours leading up to the storm while getting the shutters closed-up, and all the supplies out of the hurricane supply cabinet, including our low-sodium snack options for my grandmother, I started getting really nervous. Thinking of all the possible scenarios, and mostly the worst case scenarios, I started making an emergency bag for us and my grandmother in case we had to rush to the hospital or be rescued. The bag had an emergency whistle and skin suit in case the flooding got to be really bad, first aid kit, extra Depends, change of clothes, money, identification and insurance cards, water, snacks, waterproof bag for cell phone. My mother thought I was nuts, but I just kept thinking of all the possible scenarios and wanting to be prepared for each.

I am so thankful we never had to use the emergency bags. But I remember my thoughts as I was packing them. “This is ridiculous, why didn’t we evacuate?” “Maybe we should have put sand bags at the front door, garage door, and back door” “What if the river behind the house floods and comes in through the back?” “What if the ambulance can’t get through?” “What is my family thinking?”

I have focused on disaster risk reduction for the past nine years, in various roles in school and professionally. I have researched and written about vulnerable populations and have facilitated teams to develop recommendations from scientists, planners, and municipalities to improve conditions along the coasts and enhance resilience. In West Sumatra, Indonesia I helped during tsunami and earthquake trainings of small businesses along the coasts. But going through an acute event with an elderly, oxygen-dependent loved one, opened my eyes to the real challenges individuals and communities face in implementing recommendations. It is one thing to study and synthesize information from subject matter experts, maps, and models or even to go through hurricanes yourself; it is quite another thing entirely to go through a major hurricane as a caregiver.

I think this “human factor” is something I was failing to consider while I was disgruntled with my family members for making what I thought to be a poor decision.

But more than that I think it is something we do not consider enough in disaster risk reduction and climate adaptation work as professionals. We look at vulnerable populations as statistics and identify measurable barriers that prevent them from taking safety precautions to protect life and property. While we are far from cold to the realities and challenges of these populations, we do have the tendency to down-play the human side to the choices people make when it comes to their health and safety of themselves and loved ones.

Academically, we like to state what people should do or should not do in post-storm event analyses, and describe the poor choices that are made. When extending this work to climate change adaptation, this tendency can be more pronounced in that within community of practice  circles we often express disbelief at the decisions made by individuals, businesses, and governments in siting infrastructure, removing natural protective features, or choosing to live in high-hazard areas rather than supporting planned retreat. We tend to think that if they just had the information or if the information was presented better they would choose differently. I don’t think this is necessarily the case. Vulnerable populations need the information to ensure they are making decisions with all the available information, but we need to recognize that affected individuals and communities may still make decisions we disagree with because they weigh certain factors differently than we do as outsiders. When you don’t have a direct stake in the matter, it is not so easy to understand why certain decisions get made the way they do.

In the case of Hurricane Matthew and my grandmother, her discomfort and anxiety and preference to be at home during an emergency rather than in the middle of a gridlocked highway during an emergency, was weighed more heavily than flood and wind risk.

This reminds me of my favorite scene in the movie Sully, about the Miracle on the Hudson. An investigation was launched around the decision made by the Captain to do an emergency landing in the Hudson River instead of trying to make it back to the runway after a flock of birds flew through the engines. The flight simulators showed it was possible to make it back to the runway. But the simulations didn’t consider the real-life response time of a pilot in that situation. Once they did, the simulation results supported the decision made. Tom Hanks, playing Captain Chesley ‘Sully’ Sullenberger, replies in the movie, “We’ve all heard about the computer simulations, and now we are watching actual sims, but I can’t quite believe you still have not taken into account the human factor.”

When the electricity was restored and Hurricane Matthew’s winds were far away, my mother and I were finally able to stop holding our own breaths while trying to save my grandmother’s. I don’t think I will ever look at risk perception or special needs population work in the same way again.

How to Prepare if You are an Older Adult or a Caregiver

A number of organizations and companies have great advice and check-lists for hurricane preparation if you are a caregiver or if you are a senior yourself:

  • For seniors by seniors: American Red Cross
  • For people with lung disease: net
  • Elderly special needs plans to be ready for a disaster: FEMA
  • Personal preparedness for older adults and their caregivers: CDC

Editors’ Note: This story is the third contribution to the TCS Storm Stories series. Due to recent hazards events, Hurricane Matthew and the Baton Rouge Flooding, we want to know how it is affecting you personally and in your work. There’s been lots of attention by national media outlets like NPR story Hurricane Matthew Took a Big Bite Out of Southeastern States’ Beaches but since we are a society of coastal professionals for coastal professions we think we should do our own reporting. Sharing experiences and lessons within our network is what we do best. Submit yours today!

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HELPING COASTAL COMMUNITIES THRIVE: INSPIRATIONAL PROJECTS FROM SIX STATE COASTAL PROGRAMS

By Lisa Graichen, Climate Adaptation Program Coordinator for UNH Cooperative Extension and NH Sea Grant

Looking for some coastal inspiration? We’ve got some for you! As a coastal professional and resident, I think it’s so exciting and motivating to learn about the diversity of projects coastal communities and states are working on, whether it be research and vulnerability assessments, planning and zoning improvements, engineering designs for resilient infrastructure, or actual on-the-ground restoration and conservation. Now more than ever, we should be highlighting all the great ways state coastal programs help coastal communities thrive.

First, a little context: All 35 coastal and Great Lakes states and territories (except Alaska) participate in the National Coastal Zone Management Program, a voluntary partnership between the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and coastal states, focused on implementing the Coastal Zone Management Act (CZMA) and supporting responsible coastal resource management. Many of these programs award projects to coastal municipalities to support climate adaptation and resilient communities. :

Massachusetts Coastal Management Program is funding 19 Coastal Resilience projects in local cities and towns, for a total of $1,824,732. Here are a few examples:

  • The City of Boston will build on a vulnerability assessment to design nature-based strategies to support coastal resiliency (e.g., living shorelines, green infrastructure) for two priority sites.
  • The Town of Dennis will evaluate and design a pilot project to determine whether the beneficial reuse of dredged material is an effective way to address marsh loss and restore storm protection benefits.
  • The Town of Marshfield will evaluate modifications to a culvert and tide gate structure under existing and future sea level rise conditions.
  • The City of Salem will design and permit a living shoreline project at Collins Cove, using coir rolls (cylinder-shaped mesh rolls filled with coconut husk fibers) and natural vegetation to provide more natural protection from erosion.
  • Full project list is available here: http://www.mass.gov/eea/docs/czm/stormsmart/grants/2017-coastal-resilience-grants.pdf
Flooding in Marshfield, MA, in 2013 (Barry Chin, Boston Globe)
Flooding in Marshfield, MA, in 2013 (Barry Chin, Boston Globe)

 

Maine Coastal Management Program is funding five Coastal Community Grant projects, for a total of nearly $186,280.

  • The Washington County Council of Governments will restore commercial river herring fisheries to the greater Cobscook Bay ecosystem.
  • The Town of Vinalhaven will conduct a vulnerability study for its downtown, which is home to 40 businesses, dozens of fishing wharves, and a ferry landing. This project will improve understanding of the flood risk to this area and identify potential adaptation options.
  • The Lincoln County Regional Planning Commission will analyze flood risks for commercial and governmental structures in downtown Boothbay Harbor and provide recommendations to improve flood resiliency and raise community awareness of the flood insurance program.
  • The City of Bath will assess downtown stormwater runoff patterns and management options to mitigate the risk of flash-flooding and the volume of pollutants discharged into the Kennebec River. The project will also develop conceptual designs for improving infrastructure.
  • The City of Gardiner will study its downtown storm drainage system, evaluate options to mitigate the impacts of periodic flooding, and make recommendations.
Vinalhaven, ME (Tom Groening)
Vinalhaven, ME (Tom Groening)

 

New Hampshire Coastal Program is funding four Design Solutions for Coastal Resilience projects, for a total of over $271,000.

  • The University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension and NH Sea Grant will continue dune restoration work in Hampton and Seabrook, promote a dune grass community garden, and design new strategies to reduce dune impacts.
  • The Town of North Hampton will evaluate drainage issues at the flood-prone Philbrick’s Pond salt marsh adjacent to Route 1A.
  • The Town of Durham will analyze erosion issues at Wagon Hill Farm and design a nature-based erosion control solution.
  • The Rockingham Planning Commission will work with the City of Portsmouth and the towns of Rye, Hampton, and Seabrook to implement high-water mark installations to raise awareness about historical and projected future flood levels.
  • Learn more here: https://www.des.nh.gov/media/pr/2017/20170322-coastal-grant-awards.htm
Flooding during a 2016 King Tide in Portsmouth, NH (Sean Maxwell)
Flooding during a 2016 King Tide in Portsmouth, NH (Sean Maxwell)

 

Michigan Coastal Zone Management Program is providing $332,500 for seven coastal projects.

  • The Harrison Township will develop a Waterfront Zoning Overlay District, a Developer’s Guide Brochure, and a Complete Streets Design for the district. These products will help inform smart growth and development for the coastal area.
  • The Michigan Environmental Council will map the extent of Michigan’s coastal sand dunes and conduct outreach to better understand public values of the dunes and build a constituency of dune supporters.
  • The County of Van Buren will restore and stabilize 20 acres of dunes, improve a public trail system, and develop signage and a video about dunes.
  • The City of St. Joseph will conduct a five-year review and update of their 2012 coastal study to validate the engineering model and evaluate whether current regulations still provide sufficient protection, given rising water levels and potential increases in erosion.
  • Emmet County will construct an accessible pathway and boardwalk in Headlands Park to provide access to the Lake Michigan shoreline to all users.
  • Charlevoix County will develop a comprehensive master plan for a water trail system around Beaver Island, the largest island in Lake Michigan. The project will include a stakeholder summit, data collection and mapping, an asset inventory, an accessibility assessment, and development of promotional materials.
  • The City of Port Huron will improve public access to a constructed wetland through a boardwalk, wetland overlook, interpretive signage, and plaza.
  • In addition, the Michigan Coastal Zone Management Program is funding the second phase of a Coastal Resiliency Initiative project (a $125,000 grant) to work with the Michigan Association of Planning to incorporate coastal resiliency into communities’ plans and ordinances.
Flooding during a 2016 King Tide in Portsmouth, NH (Sean Maxwell)
Flooding during a 2016 King Tide in Portsmouth, NH (Sean Maxwell)

 

Texas Coastal Management Program is funding 17 projects, for a total of over $2.6 million. Here are a few examples:

  • Texas A&M University-Corpus Christis (TAMU-CC) aims to develop a comprehensive database for monitoring living shoreline projects and mitigation sites.
  • The Galveston Bay Foundation will construct a mile-long hike and bike trail, install an irrigation system, and plant native trees and grasses at Exploration Green in Harris County. This project will improve public accessibility and use natural wetland habitats to filter stormwater runoff.
  • The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department will create artificial reef habitat at the Rio Grande Valley Reef Site in the Gulf of Mexico, improving fisheries habitat and supporting fishing and diving.
  • TAMU-CC will generate information related to groundwater discharge rates to improve environmental flow recommendations and nutrient criteria in south Texas estuaries.
  • Learn more about these and other projects here: http://www.glo.texas.gov/coastal-grants/#search/groupcsv=Coastal%20Management%20Program%20%28CMP%29|cycleYearcsv=2017
Artificial-Reef-Red-Baby-Snapper-Fish
Artificial reef (Friends of RGV Reef)

 

Ohio Coastal Management Program is providing over $500,000 to support 12 projects, including the following examples:

  • The West Creek Conservancy will develop an app for mobile devices to promote watershed stewardship and public engagement in the Lake Erie Basin.
  • The Ohio Department of Natural Resources will work with the City of Sandusky to develop a Strategic Restoration Initiative for Sandusky Bay.
  • The Cuyahoga Soil and Water Conservation District will identify and prioritize stormwater options in four subwatersheds of the Rocky River. The project will produce conceptual designs for the top priority projects.
  • The City of Rocky River will develop a master plan for redeveloping Bradstreet’s Landing to improve lake access and water quality.

This is just a taste of projects being funded this year. Many thanks to the state Coastal Programs and to NOAA for supporting this impressive and important work!


Sources:

  • Individual State Websites (linked to above)
  • Personal communications with author and state programs

WEST HAVEN, CONNECTICUT TAKES AIM AT COASTAL HAZARDS WITH NEW COASTAL RESILIENCE PLAN

By Christina Wiegand, Coastal Resources Management PhD Student, East Carolina University

If you’ve spent time in West Haven, Connecticut, chances are you’ve spent some time on Beach Street. With beautiful views of Long Island Sound, Sandy Point shorebirds, and lobster rolls from the famous Chick’s Drive-In (RIP Mr. Celentano), it is a destination for residents and tourists alike. However, the one-two punch of Hurricanes Irene and Sandy illustrated the susceptibility of the area to coastal hazards. To address coastal hazard risk along Beach Street and other vulnerable areas, the City of West Haven has been preparing a Coastal Resilience Plan.

Now in the final stages of development, the goal of the Coastal Resilience Plan (CRP) is to address the city’s resilience to impacts from increasing storm frequency and sea level rise. The New Haven Register has quoted assistant city planner David Killeen saying the plan “will develop options for adapting to coastal risks over the long term, with an emphasis on protecting people, buildings and West Haven’s infrastructure.”

Development of the CRP is timely, with NOAA’s most recent report on sea level rise indicating a 1-8 feet rise in relative sea level along the Connecticut coast. Coupled with increases in storm severity and flooding, West Haven is likely to become increasingly vulnerable without improvements to resilience.

Purple areas indicate 5 feet of sea level rise in West Haven Source: Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (CT DEEP)
Purple areas indicate 5 feet of sea level rise in West Haven. Source: Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (CT DEEP)

Planning for the CRP was based on The Nature Conservancy’s coastal resilience program approach. This approach involves: assessing risk and vulnerability, identifying solutions, taking action, and measuring effectiveness. Throughout the process, West Haven ensured there was ample opportunity for public input. Three public meetings were held to discuss the types of hazards facing the city, avenues for adaptation, and finally long-term recommendations. Additionally, a survey of coastal residents was conducted.

The most recent draft of the CRP focuses resilience efforts on 13 coastal communities with an emphasis on underserved communities where income may limit their ability to adapt to coastal hazards. Resilience efforts will vary based on each community’s needs. Structural adaptations are likely to include: beach and dune re-nourishment, bioengineered banks, and flood protection for large residential and commercial areas. Bioengineered banks, where native plants and natural materials are used to stabilize the shoreline, are typically preferred over hard structures. Political changes are likely to include changes in city floodplain and zoning regulations.

With the right motivation and support, hopefully the CRP will ensure Beach Street and the rest of West Haven remain one of Connecticut’s premier coastal destinations.

The CRP is being prepared by Milone and MacBroom Inc. in conjunction with the Black and Veatch Corporation. Funding comes from the US Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery Program.


For more information: City of West Haven Coastal Resilience Plan – March 2017 Draft

NATURE AS PROTECTION: ECOSYSTEM-BASED ADAPTATION AND ITS SUCCESS IN THE CARIBBEAN

By Amanda Leinberger, NOAA Coastal Management Fellow with the Puerto Rico Coastal Zone Management Program and TCS Communications Subcommittee Member.

Editor’s Note: This article is also published on Marine Science Today as part of a TCS-MST Collaboration

Ecosystem-based Adaptation is good for communities and the environment as it promotes community engagement, restores natural habitats, and builds local resilience. The experience of a small island in the Caribbean is case in point.

map
Map of the Lesser Antilles. Photo credit: Google.

In the turquoise waters of the Eastern Caribbean Sea sits Grenada, a small island of about 105,000 people. The island is the southernmost of the Windward Islands and is located between Saint Vincent and the Grenadines to the north and Trinidad and Tobago to the south. Due to its location, Grenada is prone to natural hazards such as hurricanes, floods, earthquakes, landslides, and tsunamis. The country’s two largest cities, St. George’s and Grenville, are both located on the coast, and people depend heavily on agriculture and tourism for sources of income.

Coastal communities and marine resources on the island have already begun to experience the effects of climate change and are currently at risk from an increase in severe storm events, flooding, sea level rise, coastal erosion, drought, saltwater intrusion of coastal aquifers, and degradation of coral reefs. High coastal population densities, development, and limited land space have made Grenada all the more vulnerable. Damage from events that included two hurricanes, various tropical storms, and multiple extreme rainfall events served as a catalyst for projects focused on disaster preparedness, coastal resilience, and Ecosystem-based Adaptation (EbA) to help protect communities at risk from future coastal hazards.

According to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), adaptation can occur in physical, ecological, and human systems and “takes place through reducing vulnerability or enhancing resilience in response to climate change.” Adaptation activities include increasing community members’ knowledge and awareness about climate change effects to actually implementing adaptation strategies like creating a rain garden to help improve stormwater management.

EbA specifically focuses on “the conservation, sustainable management, and restoration of ecosystems to help people adapt to the impacts of climate change (IUCN)” as opposed to hard strategies that sometimes work against natural processes, such as concrete seawalls. EbA, also known as nature-based adaptation or a soft adaptation strategy, consists of multiple co-benefits as it not only protects livelihoods and communities but also restores natural habitat, supports vital ecosystem services, and boosts economies by increasing tourism.

tommccann
Photo credit: Tom McCann, The Nature Conservancy (found in National Geographic Ocean Views, 2014).

The At the Water’s Edge (AWE) project, a great example of EbA work in the Caribbean, promotes coastal resilience and aids local communities in Grenada in responding to coastal hazards. As part of AWE, a partnership was formed between The Nature Conservancy, the Grenada Red Cross Society, and the Grenada Fund for Conservation as well as other local partners to conduct a Vulnerability Capacity Assessment (VCA). Combining the strengths of these different organizations helped make the process not only nature-based, but community-based as well. The VCA focused on four communities in the Grenville area of Grenada on the east coast of the island: Marquis, Soubise, Grenville, and Telescope. Previous assessments of these sites showed them to be the most vulnerable areas in Grenada for various reasons including their location, dependence on marine resources for income, and damage caused by past extreme events and storms. These communities are situated just steps away from the ocean, leaving them more susceptible to future changes.

Example of mangrove restoration on east coast of Grenada. Photo credit: Amanda Leinberger, 2014.
Example of mangrove restoration on east coast of Grenada. Photo credit: Amanda Leinberger, 2014.

The AWE project represents a holistic, community-based approach to adaptation and coastal management processes. For example, the project used participatory 3-dimensional mapping, which is a method of community based-mapping. The map depicts local knowledge and information like landmarks, houses, resources, and ecological features that would be difficult to express on a traditional or even a digitized map. Community members also attended various meetings and trainings as well as formed part of a community committee that was responsible for leading projects and making decisions.

Mangrove nursery. Photo credit: Amanda Leinberger, 2014.
Mangrove nursery. Photo credit: Amanda Leinberger, 2014.

Under this same project, two main EbA approaches were implemented in the Telescope area: mangrove restoration along the shoreline and a pilot coral reef enhancement project off the coast. On an island like Grenada where mangroves occur naturally but have historically been cleared for development, replanting mangroves can bring back a wealth of benefits such as protection from waves, water filtration, and fish habitat. The reefs off the coast of Grenada have also been degraded due to climate change effects as well as land-based pollution sources. The reef enhancement project’s goal was to help with wave attenuation, meaning to
decrease the amount of wave energy reaching the shore thereby decreasing coastal erosion and the risk of damage during high tide and storm surge events.

Climate adaptation often elicits images of giant seawalls separating cities from the sea. Gray infrastructure projects like seawalls are expensive, and they can lead to negative ecological and social impacts like disruption of sand distribution, loss of beach, and elimination of natural habitat. EbA, or green responses, are more sustainable than traditional hard approaches in more ways than one. The work in Grenada demonstrates the importance of natural infrastructure and can serve as an example not only to other Caribbean islands, but to coastal communities around the world.

Sources:

IUCN – Climate Change Adaptation

Ecosystem-based Adaptation and Climate Change